2.1 – THE EDTECH MARKETPLACE
Is education a marketplace? A common belief is that education and business are incompatible, like oil and water. For example, almost everyone believes that classrooms should be commerce-free. Yet while the price-tags and marketing aren’t obvious, a global corporate battle is being waged for every item in the classroom, and all the systems that feed it. And our administrators are driven to be more “accountable”. And the digital lives of modern learners lead them to expect a media-savvy learning experience. These are just a few of the marketplace forces that govern education. Even though few of the participants carry wallets, everyone is involved.
The learning technologies marketplace is like none other. One demonstration of this uniqueness is the joke (I think it originally came from Neil Postman) that if you took a surgeon from the year 1912 and put them in a year 2012 operating room they wouldn’t even recognize their workplace, let alone be able to operate, while if you took a teacher from 1912 and put them in a year 2012 classroom they’d pick up the chalk and get right to work. Why is this so true? Health care and education are both essential – and deeply complex – enterprises for the common good, yet one has embraced technology deeply to deliver enormous apparent benefits for individuals and society, and the other has resisted technology almost entirely. There’s no point trying to ‘blame’ teachers, schools, or systems for this resistance – consider it a resilient strength of what may be our most social of social institutions, and a definitive characteristic of the marketplace.
Business people similarly like to joke that education is a “get rich slow” marketplace. Electronic games companies, for example, have almost exclusively avoided trying to create and sell “serious games” because they don’t believe they can make money, despite the hundreds of billions of dollars spent globally on education each year. The truth? Education is a hard market to break into, yet it can be lucrative once you’re there.
Consider yourself forewarned: the elearning marketplace is not for the faint of heart.
So why should you be inspired? Witnesses to the transformative power of technology in health, business, entertainment and other domains often regard the learning frontier as enormously inspirational for a variety of social, intellectual, and economic reasons. And the education technology marketplace is currently a darling of Silicon Valley venture capitalists:
According to 2012 Digital Trends:
In Silicon Valley, education technology is the “hot” space, thanks to major boosts in funding for initiatives in the previous year. In a twist, administrators and teachers have become outspoken advocates of technology’s role in augmenting the classroom experience. Typically tech averse, they have been won over by the sweeping promises of the gregarious founders in the space.
Why the shift in attitudes to embrace technology? “We took our social lives online, and now are beginning to entrust the Internet with our professional and academic lives,” said Ethan Kurzweil, vice president of Bessemer Ventures.
For this reason, education presents the most exciting opportunity for many investors in 2012; those interviewed provided an exhaustive list of nonprofits and for-profit companies that aim to transform the way we learn.
Why? We are still in the early innings; the big players will focus their energies on reaching students in college and high school. In 2012, the vast majority of startups will not take on the crises in the public school system. Instead, they will improve education outside of the classroom by offering access to test prep, mentorship, tutors, easy-to-use multimedia tools and webinars.
ETEC522 Emerging Learning Technologies Market Projections Library
We’ve assembled a small library of recent research reports and market projections related to emerging technology markets (these were used to populate the poll we just completed). Have a closer look at a few of these now if you wish, but we’ll dive into them a bit later.
Of course, blind luck is a significant factor in the success of most venture, but you can certainly increase your chances with a respectful understanding of what happens when education, business and technology come together. That exciting convergence is what ETEC 522 is all about – think of it as a launchpad for intrepid learning technologies adventurers. To help with that launch we’ll next look at some of the global dynamics of the elearning marketplace, explore the unique sense of “customer” and “enterprise” here, and then ask you for an evaluation of the opportunity horizon.